The Write Way: Setting Up A Series

This week, in addition to meeting my new grandson, I also met my new cover.  One of these I adored on sight.  (I’ll let you guess which.)  Sometimes that happens. 

The new cover is for the first book in a series, One Mountain Away, which debuts in August.  The series is titled Goddesses Anonymous.  This time, more than usual, I felt we needed to get the cover absolutely right.  In addition to a cover that the bookstore browser would pick up, we needed a “look” that made it clear to my readers that the next time they saw the same “look” it would be on the cover of the second book in the Goddesses Anonymous series.

While my publisher and I struggle together with the cover, I’m reminded of all the problems of setting up the actual story to lead into a series of novels.  So today, let’s explore the first thing you must pay attention to if the novel you’re writing could become the first of several–or a dozen. 

  • Will there be recurring characters?  Who are they, and what will happen in their lives as the story progresses?  How central will they be in each book, and if they are central, have you left a number of loose threads in their lives to weave in as the series continues?

There are different kinds of series, of course.  Mystery series usually feature a detective (amateur sleuth, law enforcement professional, or private investigator) who solves a different crime in each novel.  His/her life changes slowly from book to book, but the personal is not usually the focus of the story.  The life of the sleuth enriches but doesn’t fuel each novel’s plot. 

In contrast series in general fiction can focus on a group of friends, a particular place, a theme, etc., and they can vary in interesting ways.  Sometimes each book features a different character, but prior characters walk on and off stage.  (My Shenandoah Album series is an example, as is the new Goddesses Anonymous series.)  Other series (Happiness Key) use the same main characters in an ensemble from book to book.  If you haven’t read Happiness Key, then think Desperate Housewives, of television fame.  Or Friends.

The kind of series you envision will affect how you use recurring characters.  Planning ahead is best, because if you don’t, you’ll find yourself working around all kinds of situations and background you set up in Book One without realizing that later you would be hemmed in by them.

Having said that, I’ll confess that neither the Shenandoah Album series nor the Happiness Key series were meant to be series at all.  They were stand alone novels.  Only when I’d finished did I realize how many questions I still had about the characters, and how much fun it would be to explore the answers.  I found plenty of loose ends and added more as I went.

I promise we’ll consider more items in another Write Way blog.  Meantime, for previous writing tips, click here, or on the Write Way category to your right.

For now, remember that characters matter most in a series.  Be sure you create characters your readers will want to read about from book to book.  Better yet, create characters they can’t wait to read about, and just as important, characters you can’t wait to write about.  Over and over and over again.


  1. Nancy Badertscher on January 20, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    Emilie, I always enjoy reading about your writing process. Anxiously awaiting the arrival of your new series in August. You have written about so many characters over the years. How do you keep them all straight, and do they still pop into your head from time to time?

    • Emilie Richards on January 21, 2012 at 8:40 am

      Great question, Nancy. I do think about characters from time to time, particularly if something comes up that they “commented” on or had strong opinions about. I can’t go to a quilt show without thinking of Helen of the Shenandoah Album books. And we know who pie makes me think about.

Leave a Comment